In a speech before congress this week, President Barack Obama called out the factory farming industry, saying, "We will end subsidies to large agribusiness that don't need them." Industrial agriculture and others who profit from the unhealthy status quo are responding. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Industries from health care to agribusiness to mining that stand to lose under President Barack Obama's policy agenda are ramping up lobbying campaigns to derail or modify his plans.”
In the coming months, citizens will need to be engaged to promote policies that are consistent with their own values and interests. Access to healthy, affordable food should be a right, not a privilege. Organic(especially ‘veganic’) farmers who grow produce should be supported,while those who abuse animals, destroy the environment and sell food products that contribute to heart disease, cancer, obesity and other serious health risks, should be cut off. Ironically, the livestock industry has received billions of dollars in public support. That approach is dead wrong. We need to move away from industrial animal agriculture and toward growing fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and other plant foods. Such a shift would not only prevent animal suffering, but it would also be much more economically and ecologically efficient, and it would help to improve the heath of our nation’s citizens.
In his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck laments the hardships of family farmers pushed off the land by greedy interests, including “land and cattle” companies. And he writes about the injustice and arrogance of agribusiness wielding excessive influence and seeking profit above all else, regardless of the harm caused to others: “There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize.There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight row trees, the sturdy trunks and the ripe fruit.And the children dying…” Steinbeck continues, “…and in the eyes of the people there is a failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people, the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
Sadly,the decline of small farmers and the destruction of rural communities at the hands of agribusiness make Steinbeck’s warning as prescient as it is relevant, even today. Our animal centered food system has grown increasing wasteful and sick, along with the state of our nation’s health. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With citizen involvement,we can reform farm policy to place the public good above the interests of the greedy. And as consumers, we can improve our own health and send an important market signal to agribusiness every time we eat by eschewing meat, milk and eggs, and by choosing organic produce instead.
The new USDA Secretary recently announced his intention to create community gardensat every USDA facility around the world. This is a great start, but we have a very long way to go. Still, with patience and persistence,change is inevitable. Recall the message of Cesar Chavez, a vegan and the founder of the United Farm Workers, who said, “Si Se Puede” (Yes We Can).